The number of people who fell victim to a romance scam increased by more than 16 per cent over the last year, according to new data from Lloyds Bank.
The average amount lost per victim is now £8,655, slightly more than the previous year (£8,610).
Though victims between the ages of 55 and 64 still lose the highest amount on average (£15,957), the typical age of a victim has fallen, with people between 45 and 54 now the most likely to be tricked into sending money to a fraudster masquerading as a romantic partner.
The average amount lost last year by this younger age group was £7,336.
While those most at risk of romance scams tend to be over 45, younger generations do also fall victim. Last year, an average of £2,128 was lost by victims aged between 18 and 24. People aged 25 to 34 lost an average of £3,193.
Social media and technology have further played into the hands of romance scammers, who can easily pretend to be someone else in their profile, using fake information and photos. They have used the pandemic as an excuse not to travel or meet in person.
Romance scams may be less common than other types of impersonation fraud (where the criminal pretends to be from a reputable organisation, or someone the victim knows, to trick people into transferring cash out of their account), however they often leave victims struggling with significant emotional trauma. Not only do they have to deal with the financial impact of the fraud, they also have to come to terms with the realisation that the relationship – which may have been cultivated over months or even years – was not real.
Recent examples of this include the infamous ‘Tinder Swindler’, who convinced three women he was the son of a billionaire diamond merchant after meeting them on a dating app. It is estimated that he conned his victims out of £7.4 million.
Liz Ziegler, Fraud Prevention Director at Lloyds Bank, said: “Romance scam victims don’t just lose thousands of pounds, they also have to deal with emotional betrayal, as callous scammers build relationships under a veil of apparent trust and care. Their convincing back stories mean that victims think they are falling in love, when they’re actually falling for a scam.
“It’s vital that people are able to spot the warning signs. If you’ve started an online relationship and the discussion turns to money – regardless of the reason or the amounts involved – this should be a big red flag that you’re about to get scammed. Talking to a real life friend or family member can be a good way to sense check what’s going on.”